During the night a foreign ship, The Merriwell, battered and weather torn, sailed up to the town docks. It just sat there in the harbor, and hails from the harbor master and the watch produced no results. A small detachment of watchmen and a pilot was sent to investigate, but the ship proved to have been abandoned.
The first possible scenario
The crew of the Merriwell were attacked by river-pirates and marauding mercenaries, a few miles outside of town. A single crew member, a young deck’s boy named Trond survived (he hid during the fight), and managed to loosen the ship as the pirates were taking a break, and steer it towards the town despite the heavy winds and rain during the night. Just outside of town he was hit by the ships rudder, knocked overboard unconscious. When found he might be able to give valuable information about the pirates that will make tracking them easier. By the way, the Merriwell was carrying a shipment of Weapons and supplies for the Imperial Garrison in town, all of which were carried off by the pirates. Should they get their hands on a sizable amount of weapons, these pirates could become a great threat to the people of the region. The major is digging deep into his treasure chest to finance a search and destroy mission - making offers that adventurers like the PCs can’t refuse.
The second scenario
The ship was hired by an explorer charged with mapping and investigating the remoter branches of the river. He left several weeks ago, together with a hardy ship crew of rivermen and sailors and was not expected to return for several weeks hence. The following night, it is discovered that the ship is still inhabited, sort of, as a handful of dead spectral crewmen haunts the ship from sundown to sunrise. Every sundown they go busily to work readying the Merriwell for sailing, somehow managing to always find the materials and tools needed, after all such tools were stripped from the ship by the harbormaster. When the ship is ready, the ghostly crewmen simply sit down waiting, tying knots and maintaining the vessel. Come sunrise, they rig down the ship and vanish. They seem to be ready to take the ship somewhere, but perhaps they need additional crew? (Should no crew volunteer, the ghosts will soon visit the shanty bars by the docs, having spectral drinks they bring themselves, and silently checking out the guests). At this point the PC’s should be forced to act.
The third scenario
A single body, that of the captain, was found tied on the ship’s helm the captain’s log is recovered and tells of strange events that had taken place during the ship’s journey. These events led to the gradual disappearance of the entire crew apparently owing to a malevolent presence on board of the ill-fated ship. An animal described as a large dog is seen on the ship and leaping ashore. The ship’s cargo is described as silver-sand and boxes of ‘mould’ or earth from a haunted island.
This is an experiment in designing adventures in a format similar to that of the short "Tales of Terror" plots that have been used in horror-themed games. In this format, a short adventure setup is followed by three different explanations, each leading in a different direction. If enough of these are collected, a Tales of Adventure Codex will be assembled.
Those interested in seeing the original "Tales of Terror" using this format may wish to go to Steve Hatherley’s website: http://www.talesofterror.net